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When Fire Arrives

Sharon Pretti

It’s all wrong, today’s sun,

a welt in the fire-smoke sky.

Miles away and to the east, Paradise town is burning.

The perfect measure of heat + wind

to gut the white pines, the classroom windows,

to raze every armchair and saucer,

the light poles, the ball hoops, a pick-up’s bulk.

It’s all wrong, the way we’re asked

to sustain the worst. What I breathe burns,

the inside air, memory. Months and I still

snap out of sleep, sweat-flushed,

remembering my brother is dead,

stage IV spread through flesh, then bone,

then breath. All wrong, the ash

dusking my backyard leaves.

I see shapes in the smoke: a cow’s wild eye,

a woman screaming her sons awake.

Never in my wildest dreams was what

my brother said, astonished, as if he couldn’t

conceive of what came next.

A blowing away of have, of keep, of solid.

This far from Paradise,

I imagine the aftermath mapped across

their faces, mouths all gape and stun.

Indoors for days, the sky

without change, I want what they want:

to be allowed back, to stand,

even briefly, in the heart of what was.